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Hamnet at the RSC

Maggie O’Farrell’s 1.5mn selling plague-driven novel explores the loss the Shakespeare family experiences when eponymous son Hamnet dies, aged 11.

The boy’s short life is, effectively, subordinated to the legacy of a Great Man, felt only in the shadows it may or may not have cast on the Bard’s most beloved plays.

Now, Lolita Chakribati’s honourable adaptation reopens the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan theatre after a three-year closure.

Hamnet tells the story of 18 years of Shakespeare’s life from the point of view of Anne Hathaway, the countrywoman who was left behind with three children. 

Erica Whyman’s gentle Elizabethan production and 14-strong ensemble glide over Tom Piper’s simple set of wooden beams and ladders. 

The audience is alive to it.

The remarkable and young Madeleine Mantock, in her second stage credit, as Agnes (“but the ‘g’ is silent”) Hathaway has great chemistry with family Latin tutor, William (Tom Varey). She grows herbs and keeps bees “in hemp-woven skeps, which hum with industrious and absorbed life”.

The whole thing is an efficient show — not a great show but one that will probably stir audiences’ emotions and join the ranks of such Shakespeare inspired spin-offs as Shakespeare in Love& Juliet, and also Emilia

The trap Whyman and Chakrabarti sets for the audience, baiting it with a historically famous figure, is unfortunately, a trap we can’t get out of. There is a lot of exposition. 

There is a memorable soundscape featuring Oğuz Kaplangı’s compositions and Xana’s serene sound design; birdsong, the flapping of wings, sporadic knocking.

Still, Whyman has made the English heritage women heroically, mythically alive on the stage. The treatment is certainly on a high level. I was impressed by adult Hamnet, Ajani Cabey 

Although Hamnet is moderately elegant and literate and expensive, and the female driven creative team gussies things up with what may or may not be the key to something or other, it’s basically a traditional tragedy. But the show doesn’t wear its conspicuous cleverness lightly.

Disappointingly, despite a rousing Act 2, the whole thing doesn’t quite come off, and we’re always too aware of the sensitive qualities it’s aiming at.

Yet Hamnet is a reasonably good evening that misses being a really memorable one. This atmospheric show is entertainment, which doesn’t require it to be justified in the light of historical theory. 

Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley, are said to be in talks to star in Chloe Zhao’s movie version. A West End run looms.

Hamnet runs at the Swan theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 17 Jun. It transfers to the Garrick theatre, London, from 30 Sep to 6 Jan

Full cast announced for West End production of Noël Coward’s classic comedy Blithe Spirit

Madeleine Mantock

It was announced today that Madeleine Mantock will make her West End debut to play Elvira to complete the cast of the upcoming West End production of Blithe Spirit which stars Jennifer Saunders.  Madeleine recently played ‘Macy Vaughn’; a series lead in Charmed for CBS Studios and ‘Miss Clara’, in the BBC adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel The Long Song.  Other TV credits include: Casualty, The Tomorrow People,  Age Before Beauty and Into the Badlands.  Films include: Edge of Tomorrowwith Tom Cruise,Breaking Brooklyn and The Truth Commissioner.

Jennifer Saunders, one of the UK’s most popular comic actors, will revive her role as the preposterous clairvoyant Madame Arcati. She is joined by original cast members GeoffreyStreatfeild who will star as Charles Condomine, Lisa Dillon as Ruth Condomine, Simon Coates as Dr Bradman, Lucy Robinson as Mrs Bradman, and Rose Wardlaw as Edith. Theproduction brings together a distinguished and multi-award-winning creative team, directed byformer National Theatre director Sir Richard Eyre with design by Anthony Ward, lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by John Leonard and illusions by Paul Kieve. Written in 1941, Coward’s inventive, witty and meticulously engineered comedy proved light relief and a popular distraction at the height of World War II when it was first staged. The show had a record-breaking run in the West End and on Broadway and remains one of the playwright’s most popular works. Novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth are literally haunted by a past relationship when an eccentric medium inadvertently conjures up the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, at a séance. When she appears, visible only to Charles, and determined to sabotage his current marriage, life – and the afterlife – get complicated.

Noël Coward was an English playwright, composer, actor, producer and director. His dramas include Hay Fever and Private Lives. For filmhe wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning In Which We Serve and the screenplay for Brief Encounter.

Jennifer Saunders is well known as one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders, for which she and Dawn French received a BAFTA fellowship in 2009, and for the hit comedy series and subsequent film, Absolutely Fabulous, which she also wrote and starred in. She has received numerous awards including two Emmys, five BAFTAs and four British ComedyAwards.

Geoffrey Streatfeild has appeared on TV in Spooks, The Hollow Crown, The Thick of It andThe Other Boleyn Girl, and on film in Making Noise Quietly, The Lady in the Van, Kinky Bootsand A Royal Night Out. Stage credits include the Histories Cycle (RSC), Cell Mates(Hampstead), The Beaux Stratagem (National Theatre) and My Night with Reg (Donmar).

Lisa Dillon starred as Mary Smith in the BBC series Cranford. Her stage credits include Richard Eyre’s Private Lives in the West End,the RSC’s The Roaring Girl and The Taming of the Shrew, A Flea in Her Ear and Design for Living at the Old Vic and The Knot of the Heartand When the Rain Stops Falling at the Almeida.

Simon Coates’s stage credits include Richard III (Almeida), 1984 (West End), The CherryOrchard (Royal Exchange, Bristol Old Vic), King John (Shakespeare’s Globe). He has alsotoured the UK with Regeneration, The Misanthrope, Romeo & Juliet and The Hypochondriac.

Lucy Robinson’s stage credits include Waste, The Hard Problem (National Theatre), Handbagged (Vaudeville), Sweet Bird of Youth (Old Vic), In the Next Room (Theatre RoyalBath). Her many TV credits include Cold Feet, Coronation StreetCall the Midwife, Doc Martin, Doctor and Pride and Prejudice.

Rose Wardlaw recently performed in Outlying Islands at the King’s Head. She has previously appeared in Eyam, The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare’s Globe), Jubilee (LyricHammersmith) and Great Expectations (West Yorkshire Playhouse) and, for television, Call the Midwife and Doctors.

Sir Richard Eyre was at the helm of the National Theatre for 10 years and is the winner of five Olivier Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award. His numerous hugely-acclaimed productions include Guys and DollsThe Invention of Love and Private Lives. His award-winning film and television work includes Iris, Tumbledown and The Children Act.

Anthony Ward has designed numerous productions including the Tony Award-winning MaryStuart, the Olivier Award-winning Oklahoma! and What’s on Stage Award winner Chitty ChittyBang Bang.

Howard Harrison is a two-times Olivier Award-winning lighting designer whose recent works include Impossible and Mamma Mia! (London, Broadway and worldwide).

John Leonard is an award-winning sound designer and has worked extensively across the UK including at the National Theatre, Almeida, Royal Court, Chichester Festival Theatre,Birmingham Rep and Manchester Royal Exchange.

Paul Kieve is an internationally renowned illusionist whose recent theatre credits include Matilda (West End and UK tour) and Groundhog Day (Broadway). He is the co-creator of David Blaine Live and Dynamo’s international tour and consultant on the live shows for DavidCopperfield, Penn & Teller in Las Vegas and Derren Brown.

Blithe Spirit is presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, Lee Dean and Jonathan Church Theatre Productions.   The show had a sell-out run at Theatre Royal Bath as part of its 2019Summer season, a UK tour and a short run of just 12 performances before the country’s firstlockdown curtailed its six week run at the Duke of York’s Theatre in March 2020.